Grieving During the Holidays


Brenda Atkinson – December 19, 2017

My holidays were always centered on family and the music of the season.  I so enjoy the music of the holidays. To me there is nothing sweeter than a child singing “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, “Jingle Bells”, “You Better Watch Out”, “Let It Snow” and “Away in a Manger”. My favorite carols are; “Silent Night”, “What Child is This”, “O Holy Night”…actually I like them all. However, when I was grieving the carols would, on most occasions, bring a tear. People often ask, “Why do I cry when I hear the Christmas songs?” and then they follow up with “I am not sure I can do the Christmas thing this year.”

From my experience as a griever, I understand. There are so many memories: caroling with friends, gathering around the piano with family singing those beautiful carols and the music of the church. It was always a busying time for my family.

But as a griever the things we think we have to do: decorating, shopping, wrapping, planning meals, and entertaining do not seem as important. It is exhausting even for those who are not experiencing grief. But when you are grieving, the list of things to do makes you feel as if there is a 500lb gorilla on your shoulders.

How does a griever get through the Holidays?  Do you push yourself to do the usual and make everything seem normal? One lady told me, “I wish everyone would stop telling me I need to get back to normal! Normal is a setting on a dryer and that is all!” She is so right! So how do you, as a griever, maneuver your way through the hustle and bustle of the season?

Dr. Harold Ivan Smith, in his book, A Decembered Grief…Living with Loss while others are Celebrating has good suggestions on how to “get through” the holidays:

  1. Alter – Rather than Abandon – Traditions: If your family gathers around the dining table for a Christmas Eve dinner choose to be less formal and have a buffet or go out to dinner. However, let the family know about the change so they will have time to warm up to the idea.
  2. Anticipate the Holidays: As stated earlier, the demands of the holiday can be exhausting for the griever. Grievers who have been down this the road will advise: “You will deal with it by making plans and by making backup plans.” Some would advise, “Plan tentatively.” A family conference where everyone can express both needs and wishes is one way to avoid disappointment and through compromise and negotiation everyone can get a little of what they really need.
  3. Appreciate the Grief Styles and Decisions of Others: Everyone grieves differently. One expression of hospitality you can give others this holiday season is the gift of recognizing that grief has many formats and forms of expression.
  4. Befriend your Grief: Grief – even during the holiday season – has important lessons to teach those who pay attention. You may want to reevaluate or alter your traditions. Or you may find that you appreciate the traditions even more.
  5. Let Others In on Your Grief: Have you placed a Do Not Disturb sign on your heart? Do you dismiss invitations with an “I’ll get back to you?” Are you focused on grief’s being personal, that any inquiry is viewed as an intrusion? Others have been down the grief path. What other grievers have learned firsthand may be insightful to you. Let people in on your grief.
  6. Cry If You Want To: It is true, some people cannot handle tears. But remember that it’s his or her problem. Tears are an eloquent expression of our loss. You may want to schedule some times alone so you can cry freely.
  7. Define your Boundaries: Grievers need boundaries. Early in the season take a long look at your calendar. You might even want to block out some dates by writing “booked,” followed by your initials. These blocked-out dates are for time alone, seasonal rest and relaxation.
  8. Don’t Fast Forward to January 5: You may be tempted to do a seasonal hibernation and mutter, “Wake me up when it’s all over.” Holidays can have serendipity moments – those wonderful emotional and spiritual ambushes, moments when joy sneaks up on you. In the midst of great grief, there are small moments that break through to our hearts. We need those to buffer our souls and spirits for the tough times.
  9. Give Your Grief Its Voice: It might be through notes to family members and friends; some of which you may mail, others you may not mail. Notes or letters can be read at the grave or scattering ground of your loved one. When you give your grief its voice, it makes it easier for others who are with you or around you to give their grief its voice. You might say, “It’s OK to talk about ______________.
  10. Journal Your Grief: One of the most helpful practices for many grievers has been to retreat to their journals. Do not worry about punctuation, spelling, or who might see your words and thoughts. Just get the thoughts, words and fears down on paper. Always date and time the writing. Down the emotional road, you’ll want to go back and reread what you wrote.
  11. Nurture Yourself:  Perhaps you’ve been so busy caring for other family members in their grief that you’ve ignored your own needs. List three ways you could nurture yourself this holiday season. Examples:  a long hot soak, a massage, a day at a health spa, or simply checking into a hotel for a day of quiet and reflection.
  12. Make Gratitude:  Take time this day to deliberately state or write for whom or what you are grateful.

(Smith, Harold Ivan, A Decembered Grief…Living with Loss while Others are Celebrating, Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, Mo. 1999.)

One of the newer Christmas songs that I have come to love is “My Grown Up Christmas List.” It speaks of all those things in our world that most want: no more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, time would heal all hearts, everyone would have a friend, right would always win and love would never end. Those are beautiful wishes. As a griever we have to take one day at a time or even one hour at a time. I found myself, after hearing this song, thinking about those in grief during this holiday. So here are my wishes for you:

  • That your family takes time to remember your loved one.
  • That you experience grace from those around you and that you in turn bestow grace on others.
  • That you embrace your grief, remembering we grieve deeply because we love deeply.
  • That you find the peace of this Christmas season through the love that came to us through a babe in a manger.


Christmas Blessings!

Brenda F. Atkinson, M.Div.; C.T.

Continuing Care Coordinator

Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes



One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s